Archive for February, 2011

Simple Natural Beauty: Basic Hair Care

This is the big one. I am like Jo March in that my hair is my one vanity. I don’t wear makeup and I’ve never been able to stick to a skin care routine that’s too complicated or reliant on expensive products. But I do love to take care of my hair. In college, I donated my waist-length hair to Wigs for Kids, cutting back to a funky, shoulder-length shag. I also dyed it burgundy. I felt fun and hip again, but I also felt less feminine. Fast-forward to about 3 and a half years ago, when I got all my previously-dyed hair cut off and started growing out my natural hair color. I have a few grey hairs, but I don’t plan to color my hair again.

In 2009, I joined the Long Hair Community and really got serious about growing back my beautiful long hair. I experimented with a lot of different methods of hair care, but I eventually found one that meshes well with my views on natural products, as well.
I alternate between washing with diluted baking soda and washing with diluted Dr. Bronner’s soap. My basic baking soda routine is to add a tablespoon of baking soda to a hair dye applicator bottle and then fill the bottle to 4-5oz. with water. I shake it up, apply it to my scalp, and massage it in for a bit before rinsing. To wash with Dr. Bronner’s soap, I put a teaspoon or two of soap in the applicator bottle and dilute it with 2-3 oz. of warm water. This I also squirt onto my scalp, and then lather it up with my hands. Rinse well.
After washing with an alkaline solution, you need to re-balance your hair. I achieve this by putting 2-4 Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar in a pint-sized jar and filling it the rest of the way with warm water. This I pour over my head, making sure it gets everywhere. Then I rinse again. This rinse will also remove any mild soap scum that might have resulted from the interaction of your water with the soap.
I do find that if I use soap exclusively, I get tangly buildup on my ends. I have to use baking soda at least once every couple weeks to keep this at bay. The main point is that I only wash my hair 2-3 times a week. I try to schedule washes for days when I go running and my hair will be sweaty, but if I do go running on a non-wash day, I will just rinse my hair with water.
After Washing:
I like to use oil on damp hair in order to condition my hair, provide slip for detangling, and hold in moisture. I have used coconut oil in the past, but I find that in the winter, it is hard to get it to soak in before it solidifies. So I mostly use liquid oils. My favorite right now is grapeseed oil, which is very lightweight and provides excellent slip. I also use sweet almond oil for a richer oil.
I apply about 1/4 tsp. to the ends of my hair with my palms, working my hands up my length. I have hair down to the middle of my back, so someone with shorter hair will need less oil and someone with longer hair will need more. I did not find oiling to be useful until my hair was well past my shoulders, as applying oil too close to the scalp can sometimes leave your hair looking greasy. I apply oil before putting my hair up in a towel turban, but after a light towel-blotting.
I have to stress that this is just my personal hair care routine. I’ve done a lot of experimenting to get to this point, and what works for me will not work for everyone. If you have curly hair, you may find that you need more moisture. One thing you might try is the Oil Shampoo Method, which has been successful for people who need more moisture out of a wash. I use this method once in a while, with Dr. Bronner’s soap as the base, to alleviate scalp itching in the winter, but I cannot use it regularly as my hair does not need this much moisture and it leaves my hair looking greasy.
You can also experiment with different oils, or how much oil you use. If you have coarser hair, you may need more oil; if you have finer hair you may need less. Right now, I find that grapeseed oil is the closest thing to a lightweight silicone serum that I can find using natural products. The almond oil is richer. You can also look at this list to choose a different oil or butter, based on your needs.
Also, if you have harder or softer water, you may need adjust the strength of your diluted vinegar rinse, or use a different acid. If you have blond hair, you may want to use lemon juice or white vinegar, as apple cider vinegar has been known to darken or redden blond hair. If you find that your hair feels waxy after washing with soap, you need to increase the amount of vinegar in your rinse. If your hair feels limp, lank, or greasy, you need to reduce the amount of vinegar in your rinse.
One more caveat: The first time I tried washing with baking soda, as part of the “no ‘poo” method, I found that the baking soda stripped out all the artificial color in my hair, leaving the dyed length of my hair brassy and faded-looking. It was also visibly damaged. It made it easy to show the hair stylist where to cut to get rid of the dyed stuff, but if you want to continue coloring your hair with chemicals, you may want to skip baking soda washing. If you want to try something more natural, consider henna, indigo, or other herbal blends.
I hope this primer on my basic natural hair care has given you some ideas to help make your beauty routines more natural! Next, I’ll share some of my hair styling tips for very long hair.
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Comfort and Food

We’ve all heard of comfort food. Those guilty, high-fat, high-calorie, high-sugar vices that we all seem to have. Those treats to whom we run when life gets tougher. Chocolate is a biggie. Or baked goods. Or things that are fried.

I’m not here to debate what makes us crave the comfort foods we crave. Some have even tried to postulate that the specific craving we’re having points to a specific issue or deficiency. Personally, I just know that I had a crappy Friday and (therefore) weekend, and I’m spending today not being terribly resistant to the bags of candy my coworker brought in.
But I’m not stressing about it. After all, if you’re stressed, and running to comfort food, and then stressing about the comfort, then it’s just going to compound the problem. As long as I’m getting some good, nutrient-dense foods as well, I’ll take the good with the bad. Anyway, plenty of “comfort food,” like the plate pictured above is what I would consider awesome, nourishing food. Meatloaf with homemade gravy made from homemade broth, mashed potatoes with butter and cream, and broccoli with butter.
And I did have my glass of nettle infusion this morning to boost my adrenals.

A Quick Pick-Me-Up: Custard Steamer

One thing I discovered that I love is milk steamers. At a coffee shop, a steamer is basically a flavored latte without the coffee. That is, hot milk and flavoring mixed together. But ever since I learned that citric acid can have MSG in it, and most flavor syrups have citric acid, I haven’t ordered any flavored coffee drinks out at coffee houses. But I can make my own, with nourishing sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup, and organic flavorings. And today, I learned that adding a beaten egg yolk and heating it with the milk makes a rich, drinkable, warm custard.

Custard Steamer
1 cup whole milk (milk and cream would be amazing)

dash of salt

1 tsp. or so of honey
1 egg yolk
flavoring of choice
Heat the milk, salt, and honey until the honey dissolves and steam starts to rise from the milk. Beat the egg yolk in a small dish (I used the mug from which I drank it and just rinsed it in between) and add about 1/3 of the hot milk. Add this back to the milk in the pan and heat over medium heat until it thickens and simmers at the edges. Made with milk, it will take on the consistency of half-and-half, and just barely start coating the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in flavoring of choice (vanilla is always good). I like to strain it into a mug and let it cool for 10-15 minutes before drinking. It thickens as it cools.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.
Don’t miss the newest article at Wellness the Wild Woman Way!

Millet Porridge

While I used to eat oatmeal in cold weather, my new favorite thing is millet. It’s gluten-free, and it happens to be the cheapest bulk grain at my organic store. I thought I’d share my recipe for basic millet porridge for you, since it’s such a frugal way to base a meal. I mostly eat it for breakfast, but it would make an excellent bed for any kind of topping. I’ve made hearty meals, with meat and eggs on top of millet, and I’ve made simple breakfasts of millet with butter and honey.

My current favorite is to fry up some sliced mushrooms in ghee and then push them to the side, fry up an egg and top the millet with butter, fried egg, and mushrooms. Delicious, filling, and no added sugar, so I don’t get hungry again mid-morning like I do with sweet breakfasts.

Basic Millet Porridge
1/3 cup millet
1 cup water + extra for soaking
dash of salt
The night before, put the millet in a container and cover with water (at least a cup). Add a splash of an acidic medium, if you wish. Millet is low in phytic acid, so it does not need a long soaking. In the morning, strain the millet and bring a cup of water to a boil. Add the salt and the millet and cover, turning the heat to low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid has absorbed. Serve topped however you like. Makes one serving.
This post is part of Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet.
Don’t miss the latest article at Wellness the Wild Woman Way, about stinging nettle!

Simple Natural Beauty: Basic Skin Care

I’ve decided to start a Wednesday series devoted to my beauty rituals, which I base around natural ingredients and simple practices. Today, to officially begin the series, I’ve chosen to focus on my personal skin care routine. As a teenager and younger person, I never experienced much acne, and even now, I rarely get more than one or two blemishes at a time. While proper skin care can help a variety of ailments, I find that the biggest influence on ones outward appearance is diet. When I nourish my body with appropriate, natural foods, my skin looks healthy and glowing.

So beyond my diet, I use very little on my face, and I use almost nothing that I would not eat. My everyday skin care ritual is broken up into two parts: morning and evening. In the mornings, I rinse my face with plain water. If I shower, I just let the water run over my face as I wash the rest of me, and if I do not shower, I splash my face with water from the sink, or else sometimes use a soft washcloth.
In the evenings, I spend a little more time on my face. Most nights, I wash with warm water and a wash cloth. Then, I use a little Thayer’s witch hazel toner on a cotton pad, and finish with a thin layer of frankincense and myrrh scented shea butter on still-damp skin. The shea butter absorbs overnight, and my beagle seems to love the scent when he jumps up on the bed with me.
It helps that I wear no makeup on a regular basis. If I get a blemish, I may use a little rhassoul clay as a spot treatment, perhaps with a little lavender essential oil, but in general, I try to avoid bothering my skin as much as possible. At least once a week, or so, I do a modified oil cleansing, using a mild sea buckthorn soap after removing the oil, and following with my witch hazel and shea butter. I’ve used jojoba oil in the past for oil cleansing, but right now I use grapeseed oil. It is a nice, light oil that makes a good cleansing oil, light moisturizer, or hair oil. I try to time this oil cleansing to be the night before I plan on washing my hair, so that if I get some oil in my hairline, it will be washed away in the morning.
An oil cleansing ritual can be as simple or as lavish as you want it, though I tend to stick to a simple massage of oil, followed by a hot, damp cloth to steam my pores. In the future, I will post about special-occasion skin pampering that I may do on a lazy Saturday, or when I want a luxurious pick-me-up.
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Small Pleasures

Yesterday was a great Valentine’s day, but a stressful day in general. The main stressor was something so completely out of my control that I had to just get over it because obsessing about it wasn’t going to make anything better. So I decided to see how many small things in my evening I could find that brought me joy.

Salad with citrus and olive oil. This was our appetizer for Valentine’s day dinner, and ever since I cut up a grapefruit that I had lying around and toss the segments on top of a salad for a random lunch, I’ve loved the flavor of citrus, olive oil, and salt.
The color and scent of red kale. It’s not really red; it’s purple. It has my absolute favorite color combination, purple and green. And it has a particular scent, almost perfume-y. It’s not a green scent, but it is amazing. As I chopped kale for my lunches this week, I took a moment to stick my nose in and inhale the scent. It calmed me.

Simple roast chicken and boiled potatoes. I never knew how easy a fantastic meal could be. Roast chicken is my go-to meal for company because it seems so complicated, but really all you do it salt a chicken and put it in a hot oven. And boiled potatoes with butter and salt seem to be my ultimate comfort food.

Finally, when all else fails, a cup of sage tea and a relaxing nighttime beauty ritual will always calm me down and leave me ready for restorative sleep. Good morning, everyone!
This post is part of Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.

A Monday Morning Kind of Post

It’s Monday morning. Always a good time to take stock of what you’re been doing and where you’re going. Last week, I did lots of blogging, lots of cooking (as usual) and even started researching and writing my next Wellness the Wild Woman Way article. This in addition to my normal job. I hope I can continue my productivity this week!

I also made a nice big Mountain Rose Herbs order. I highly recommend them for all your herbal/natural needs. They have lots of nice, bulk dried herbs, spices, teas, oils and butters, and other supplies for herbal healing and natural living. I ordered a pound of pink Himalayan sea salt because I love the little jar my mother gave me for the holidays. And I got some peppercorns and paprika because I use them until I run out and then have not-as-fun food. I also ordered some more sage (my favorite stress-relief herbal ally!), some peppermint leaf, and some lemon balm, along with some small, corked jars so that I can bring some dried herbs to work to make healing herbal teas without going home. I’ll blog about my office-apothecary set when I get it done.
Today is Valentine’s day (or Lupercalia, or some extension of Imbolc, if you prefer), and I’m cooking a nice meal. I also made a soaked cherry-chocolate-chip loaf for the office. I’m also starting a capoeira class tomorrow night. So I guess my goals for the week are to keep busy, keep active, and keep blogging!